Just Another Animal?

Just Another Animal?

Blame it on TV.

After all, beginning at a very young age, children watch countless videos and cartoons where animal characters speak and display other human characteristics. And adults can flip to an educational science program where biologists explore the wonders of animal behavior and conclude that humans and animals are remarkably similar.

Before tossing the television, however, it might be better to evaluate the ideas emanating from this medium, in particular the notion that man is “just another animal.”

Philosophical reflection yields the following categorical distinctions between the species. (See Connections Q1, 2006 for several more.)

Moral Awareness

Human beings possess a conscience, identify a value system, and legislate moral laws for society. People deliberate about moral choices; they feel the pull of prescriptive moral obligation and attempt to conform their lives according to a system of ethical conduct. Human society by necessity enacts laws and punishes violators. As Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga states, “It is extremely difficult to be a normal human being and not think that some actions are wrong and some are right.”1

Animals can perform good, even heroic acts. A dog might save its owners from a burning house or guide soldiers through dangerous obstacles during combat, but it does not make morally reflective judgments about such acts. An animal cannot debate the merits of risking one’s life to save another.

Technological Ingenuity

Human beings are uniquely inventive and technological. Christian philosopher J. P. Moreland has noted that, in terms of technology, people living at the time of the American Civil War had more in common with the Old Testament patriarch Abraham (c. 2000 B.C.) than with people living today.2 Technological advancement in the twentieth century alone was breathtaking. A person transplanted from 1865 to 1995 would struggle to comprehend the leaps in military technology, transportation, and communications. Philosopher Harold H. Titus said of mankind, “They have learned to fly, to journey under the sea, to travel to interstellar space…and to project their images and voices around the world.”3

Animals by comparison have a very limited capacity for utilizing objects in nature as tools. They lack the inventiveness or creativity of human beings. While often powerful and instinctive creatures, animals do not take dominion over nature (as man has).

Thirst for Knowledge

Human beings possess an intense curiosity to explore and understand the entire created realm. Their interest ranges from the core of the earth to that which lies beyond the most distant galaxy. Mankind’s insatiable curiosity about the created realm is well summarized by Stephen Hawking in the best-selling science book of all time, A Brief History of Time. There Hawking explains that no human being is content until he or she has complete answers to the following questions: “What is the nature of the universe? What is our place in it, and where did it and we come from? Why is it the way it is?”4 As for Hawking himself, he will not be content until he “would know the mind of God.”5

Animals, on the other hand, will explore things and creatures in their immediate habitat that pertain to furthering their survival or enhancing their fun, but not much more. Whereas birds may look to the star patterns in the sky to guide them in their migrations, humans seek to comprehend the source of starlight and what lies beyond the stars they see.

Appreciation for Beauty

Human beings possess aesthetic taste that exceeds merely practical purposes. People create and recognize beauty in art, music, film, literature, and the natural world itself. But unlike other species, man’s creative impulse extends beyond practicality. People often create because they are moved by a deep and mysterious sense of the beautiful. Anthropological finds have shown that man’s aesthetic expression dates virtually from the beginning of human existence.

Animals’ aesthetic capacities are of a lower order and motivated by practical necessity. Birds make nests and beavers build dams but animals do not seem to create for the sheer pleasure of creating.

Humans as Image Bearers

Such distinctions place human beings in a different category-they are not “just another animal.” These characteristics comport well with what Scripture reveals concerning the image of God. Humans alone were created in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-28), and thus resemble their Creator in finite expression. Any competing worldview, such as naturalism, must account for these profound fundamental differences apart from the God of the Bible.

This article has been adapted from Kenneth Samples’ upcoming book on worldviews, due to be published in 2007.
  1. Alvin Plantinga, “Right and Wrong,” in Great Thinkers on Great Questions, ed. Roy Abraham Varghese (Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 1998), 102.
  2. J. P. Moreland, Christianity and the Nature of Science (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1989), 11.
  3. Harold H. Titus, Marilyn S. Smith, and Richard T. Nolan, Living Issues in Philosophy, 9th ed. (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1995), 29.
  4. Stephen W. Hawking, A Brief History of Time (New York: Bantam Books, 1988), 171.
  5. Hawking, 175.